Connecting with a Like-Minded Science Communicator

Last week, I took the bus to Chalandri, a suburb of northern Athens, to meet with Theo Anagnostopoulos. Anagnostopoulos is the cofounder of SciCo, a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate communication of scientific topics in a creative and interesting way. After spending more than 10 years developing a background in genetics and cancer biology in the U.K., Anagnostopoulos, who is also the president of the board of the Onassis Scholars’ Association, chose to pursue a career in science communication even though, in his words, “there was no market for it” in Greece.

“How do you survive in a field that has no market?” he said. “You have to open the market.”

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The (somewhat hidden) entrance to the SciCo offices in Chalandri.

At SciCo, Anagnostopoulos helps run various programs that enable science communication in Greek society, though he also hopes to expand internationally. This includes the Athens Science Festival, which was started in 2014 and now draws 30,000 visitors each year, and the Thessaloniki Science Festival, which was instigated shortly after. They also have developed a program called Mind the Lab, which places research demonstrations in Athens metro stations for one day each year in order to integrate science into everyday life. Volunteers are an important part of making these programs a success.

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Theo Anagnostopoulos, general manager of SciCo, at his desk.

Anagnostopoulos says that SciCo has two main pillars: communication and empowerment. “A lot of the issues that drive global attention involve science,” he said. “Once [people] leave the festival, hopefully they will engage with something scientific afterwards.”

This type of work is essential in a world where science research is flourishing but communication and engagement are still lacking.

“We’re trying to create education based on rational steps,” Anagnostopoulos said. He says it’s important to help people navigate the science communication landscape in what’s been called the “infobesity” era. “There’s so much confusion about the masses of information coming out on the same topic. I think the more you have, the more confusion is created. You need someone who is balanced.”

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Employees working at the SciCo office.

Anagnostopoulos is passionate about creating engagement on crucial issues like global climate change. However, he also admits that Greece’s ongoing financial crisis has created a distraction from dealing with these issues firsthand, as have the ongoing antics of the U.S. government.

“You get distracted by the U.S.’s position,” he said. “You feel as though you’ve got an Olympic Stadium full of water and you’re using a coffee cup to empty it, but you have someone throwing buckets of water back in.”

As someone who wants to be a science communicator in the U.S., I found that metaphor to be equal parts accurate and depressing. Still, it was fascinating to hear the perspective of someone who’s observing Trump’s actions from the outside, and I was glad to offer my own opinions on the reasons for what’s happening.

While in Greece, I’ve been able to pursue many different types of reporting, some of which I’m already accustomed to and some of which I definitely am not. In the midst of those different experiences, I’m glad to have found time to meet with someone who is in the thick of the field that I hope to make my own career in someday.

Anagnostopoulos says he enjoys science communication because of the “creativity of how you will express what you learn.”

“Whatever tool you use, you are on a stage,” he said. “Being a researcher is an isolating profession. I like having the chance to talk to and interact with other people outside of my job.”

Anagnostopoulos is working on expanding SciCo internationally and says that he would love to have an office in the U.S. someday, so who knows, maybe we will have a chance to connect again. For now, I am excited to move forward with my own goals of helping create more scientific awareness in society with the knowledge that there are people around the world trying to do the exact same thing.

Back at Home…

Things are not going well.

Tonight, as I was painstakingly going through video interviews with Paxtyn and Danny to figure out what parts of the interview we wanted to send to a translator, I received a breaking news notification from the Boston Globe that drove interviews and translations from my mind:

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To be honest, it has been nice to spend a little time living in a country where Trump is not president. I am embarrassed to come from a place that is associated with the election of a person to the world’s most important job who is truly unfit to fulfill it. I have been glad to find that people in Greece do not immediately associate Americans with Trump – or if they do, they either express sympathy or effectively hide their distaste – and I have been able to connect with locals without having to explain that I do not share Trump’s views.

Being in Greece has allowed me to forget about what’s going on at home. Over the past few months, I have become numb to the Globe’s breaking news notifications, and being abroad gave me an excuse – though probably not a good one – to turn my back for a little while.

Tonight, however, all the anger I felt on election night came rushing back. Near the end of 2015, nearly 200 nations agreed to a unified effort to voluntarily reduce worldwide carbon emissions. The Paris climate accord is an essential step in combatting climate change, the effects of which are already predicted to have an effect on the daily lives of people around the world, but will worsen significantly if we do not reduce our emissions soon and quickly.

I was aware that Trump had plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but had forgotten until tonight just how real of a possibility this was. The U.S. is the second-highest carbon emitter on the planet – behind China – and our country’s participation in the agreement is important both for reducing worldwide emissions and for facilitating future conversation about our changing climate.

Donald Trump knows nothing about climate change and doesn’t care to know anything about climate change. He’s described our scientifically-proven-to-be-changing climate patterns as a hoax (and according to Vox, has tweeted his skepticism over 100 times), and still refers to climate change through the limited descriptive title of “global warming.” He is not fit to be president and he is not equipped to make this decision. But he can and already did.

Here’s where I’m at. For the past two weeks or so, I have been working on a story about recycling initiatives in Thessaloniki. I think it is starting to come together. My central focus is on the people in different areas of the city – based everywhere from the local waste management association to the university to a startup called Cyclefi – who are all working to promote the need for recycling and environmental preservation.

There are a number of challenges associated with this aim, not least of which is the fact that many Greeks are distracted by the economic crisis. Nevertheless, public awareness is increasing, and the amount of recycled material in Greece has increased significantly in the last decade despite the ongoing crisis.

Reusing and recycling is not a direct way to reduce carbon emissions, but it does have an effect. It helps to keep our environment cleaner and freer of pollution, and reducing and reusing plastic and aluminum can also reduce a country’s carbon footprint.

Greece is a country in crisis, but there are still people working to increase awareness and preserve the environment for the next generation. It’s a difficult task, but a necessary one for addressing climate change both within the E.U. (third highest carbon emitter, if you’re keeping track) and globally.

Of course, there are many, many people in the U.S. who are also working to promote environmental awareness and to communicate the realities of climate change. I’ve met some of them. But right now, the loudest voice in our country is saying that climate change isn’t a pressing issue. And my voice – an aspiring science writer reporting from Greece – feels very small and far away.

I do not know what will happen next or how to mentally respond to this decision. One thing is for sure: I will no longer turn my back on what is happening at home. I am watching and listening, and this is not okay.